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Peacemaking Lessons For The Next Century

IPA Vienna Seminar 8 July 2000 "Sharing Political Space in Peacemaking: the UN and Regional Organisations - the Case of Europe"


It's always a sign of advancing senility to start quoting yourself. But the lessons we have learned for the next century, from the experience of the last decade, about the peace and security role of the UN and regional organisations, are pretty much the same as those we should have learned and applied for a good chunk of the last century. Many of us have been writing about this stuff for years- in my case certainly since Cooperating for Peace in 1993 - and itís a healthy corrective to any delusions of grandeur we might have to think how little difference any of it seems to have made. But here we go again...

A lot of things happen by happenstance, accident rather than design, in international relations, but the optimal way for things to move forward is for three things to come together : for the decision making culture to be right; for the right concepts to be applied to the problem by policy makers at the right time; and for the delivery to be right. There are substantive lessons to be learned, from our recent experience, at all three of these levels. But the first lesson is a process one.

The Process Lesson

In the practical world of public decision making people are often too busy doing things to think about things, and the urgent is always driving out the important.

We have not focused enough on the way in which, in this environment, it can happen that lessons are learned, ideas and approaches change, received wisdom evolves, and delivery eventually improves. This is a subject which intrigued me as a Minister, and now as an NGO supplicant from the other side of the fence intrigues - and frustrates - me even more.

There are ways in which we can do better , and not only governments and intergovernmental organizations, but the research community and NGOs, can and should contribute to the process. Seminars like this (particularly if they are attended by Ministers, which they usually aren't) are important ; so are formal lessons-learned units; UNITAR training programs; and personnel secondments to research institutes, field NGOs and other governments, to mention just a few . When resources are scarce these are the first areas to be cut: they should be among the last.

Substantive Lesson I: Culture of Decision Making

There are two crucial general mindsets which it is important to encourage- by the kind of processes I have encouraged, and others as well (including high profile international commissions, and bully-pulpit preaching by high-profile leaders). If they are present, good decision-making is that much easier to achieve. In their absence, it's hard work all the way. The first is that of cooperative security. This is an approach to security which stresses the virtue of multilateralism rather than bilateralism, the value of dialogue and reassurance rather than the muscular assertion, and the multi-dimensional character of security threats and protections. It's a more complex concept than collective security (renouncing force among yourselves, and coming to the aid of anyone attacked); more broad ranging than common security (finding security with rather than against others); and more subtle than comprehensive security (the notion that security is multi-dimensional, not just military in character): but it embraces elements of all three of these more traditional concepts.

Europeans tend to think more instinctively in cooperative security terms than either Americans or Russians. Life would be a lot easier if this mindset prevailed more universally.

Probably the most relevant feature of the cooperative security mindset for our purposes here is that it implies a considerable degree of comfort with a regional environment, like that which prevails in Europe, in which there are multiple multilateral organisations with overlapping security roles. The argument is that the more opportunities there are for dialogue and cooperative action, the thicker will be the ties that bind.

The second crucial mindset which it is important to embed is that of prevention - so that real primacy is given to it by policymakers, not just lipservice. That's much easier said than done, not least because if you're successful at prevention nobody tends to notice. And getting a politican to perform good works that nobody will notice is like trying to bath a dog.

Partly it's a matter of getting policy makers simply to understand the range of conflict prevention tools that are in fact on offer - there is a cupboard full of longer-term structural prevention tools, and another cupboard full of shorter term operational tools; and in each cupboard there are separate shelves for economic, social, political, bureacratic, diplomatic and military measures potentially available to bring to bear on different kinds of situations.

I don't stop to do it now, but we are in a better position to label a lot of those tools now, as a result of experiences in the Balkans in particular, than we were before. A lot of them, again, are appropriately delivered through multilateral regional institutions like the EU and OSCE.

Here as so often elsewhere, a bigger problem than understanding the right response is the lack of political will to deliver it. We would do better in the next century, however, to spend less time lamenting the absence of political will, and more time doing something about generating it. From my own experience in politics I think there are four kinds of arguments that count:

(1) Moral: preventing human suffering. It's more difficult to move them when the blood is not yet flowing, and there are no amputees for CNN to film, but governments always like to be seen to be acting from higher motives.

(2) Financial: spending a few millions on prevention now saves billions we will have to spend in reaction later.

(3) National security and trade: avoiding regional destabilization, refugee outflows, disruption to resource supply lines, trade routes; peace is better for business than war.

(4) International reputation: being seen to be a good international citizen. Others are watching us.

(5) Manageability: taking action to help here doesn't necessarily mean we have to do it everywhere. Things are not hopeless; a small contribution now doesn't necessarily mean a big contribution later.

Substantive Lesson II: Applying the Right Concepts at the Right Time

Having a cooperative security mindset, and the political will to act preventively, would be an important start, but it's only a start. When security problems arise, a great many more specific questions have to be asked and answered. The biggest single lesson we can learn from the last decade is the importance of asking and answering exactly the right questions, viz

- Is this problem one that demands a response at all by the international community?

- What is the most appropriate category of response? Does it involve peace building (pre or post conflict), peace maintenance (preventive diplomacy or preventive deployment), peace restoration (peace making or peace keeping) or peace enforcement (sanctions or military enforcement)?

- Who is best placed to respond?

- How, in detail, should that response be implemented? What precisely are the objectives of the response, how are those objectives to be met, and are the resources necessary to meet those objectives available?

- What do we do if the preferred response fails and some escalated response is called for to meet the identified objective? (A question that arises especially sharply in the context of preventive deployment - happily it didnít have to be answered in Macedonia - and for high risk peacekeeping operations, where escalation contingencies should always be part of the planning, both military and political, from the outset).

For present purposes, the "who" question is the most pertinent one. The short answer is that for every category of response apart from military peace enforcement, there is plenty of space for multiple players to share - the UN, regional organisations, and individual governments all have room to make useful contributions (though desirably coordinated ones) when it comes to preventive strategies, peacemaking diplomacy, traditional peacekeeping and peacebuilding measures.

When it comes to military enforcement the conceptual space is rather more confined.

The optimal situation is for the UN itself, or for regional organisations like NATO - or on occasion individual countries - acting with the direct and explicit authority of the UN Security Council, to take the necessary action.

It won't always be optimal for the UN itself to deliver the enforcement response - because of all the familiar difficulties with its planning and implementation capacity, and those of meshing operationally multiple troop contributors. But it will always be optimal for the UN to be the authoriser of force - because the UN is the only body that we have with effectively universal membership and the unchallenged legal authority to exercise enforcement powers.

To say that the UN is the optimal authoriser of force does not conclude the argument as to whether it should be the only one. In circumstances where the UN won't act, but there is a catastrophic risk of human suffering unless someone does, it is very hard to argue against unauthorised intervention. But it will always be a question of fact as to whether there was such a catastrophic risk, and whether the kind of enforcement intervention in question was necessary to avert it: in the case of Kosovo, for example, it is reasonable to go on asking, among other things, whether an early, credible, and sustained threat of introduction of ground troops would have made unnecessary the attacks which later occurred.

Substantive Lesson III: Delivery

The lessons we have learned, or re-learned, in recent years about operational failures, and the need for improved delivery mechanisms, are legion. They have been covered excellently in the course of this seminar, and its hardly necessary to spell them out, but the most obvious and notorious are:

  • the need to match the mandate to the problem, and the resources to the mandate
  • the need to have rapid deployment of both military and civilian personnel
  • the need for those personnel to be properly trained
  • the need to meet law and order breakdown situations with fully developed "justice packages" (comprising police, prosecutors, judges, prison administrators and a pre-drafted UN Criminal Code)
  • the need to recognise that in highly divided societies holding elections early and often may not be the best way to consolidate democracy, and
  • the need to have a coherent (and preferably single) chain of command in all situations where multiple agencies are sharing the action in question.

Many of these delivery issues are now being more seriously and systematically addressed than they have ever been before, not least by the UN Brahimi panel . All that is needed now is for all the major governments in the UN system and regional organisations to show intelligence, goodwill, stamina and financial generosity, and the problem will be solved by the next century - 2100 should be a very good year...